Yellow 6401 metres, CR74.2/142
White 5349 metres, CR71.9/137
Blue 5463 metres, CR69.6/126
Red 4819 metres, CR65.9/113
Women’s blue, CR74.9/131
Women’s red, CR70.5/121
*Includes golf cart and halfway house
Jack Nicklaus 2005
044 302 9677
Simola is a spellbinding Jack Nicklaus signature design high in the hills above the Garden Route town of Knysna. The hotel buildings stand high on a ridge overlooking the course, with views of the Knysna Lagoon.
Simola is on such undulating terrain that golf carts are essential. They are included in the green fee. Walking the course is not easy because of some of the distances between green and tee. There’s a steep, twisting cart path with hairpin bends leading down from the pro shop to the first and tenth tees, and another long climb from the first green to the second tee. The high ridge framing the property splits the course into two distinct parts. There are 12 holes in the area below the hotel, and another six in a separate valley.
Nicklaus designed five par 5s and five par 3s. Even with all the uphill and downhill holes, Nicklaus has cleverly achieved a course where you seldom have an uneven lie.
The short holes are a feature of the layout, testing a wide range of clubs in the bag from a fairway metal at No 6 to a wedge at No 17. The par 5s are excellent, beginning with the switchback opening hole which must be one of the most challenging on the course. Three of the par 5s are played to elevated greens, and these are tough targets to hit, even with a short pitch.
The clubhouse is part of the main hotel area, and the bar on the upper floor has an outstanding view of the course below.
61 by Brandon Cloete, 2010 club champs;
Caylum Boon, 2017 Simola Open;
George Coetzee, 2019 Vodacom Origins Final.
With all the elevation changes at Simola the result is several exciting tee shots from high vantage points, notably the par-4 second where the tee is more than 100 metres above the fairway, the long par-3 sixth, with its magnificent views over the Knysna River, and the par-4 eighth. The par-4 13th is a superb downhill hole with the green tucked away at the bottom of an attractive vale.
The Simola Hotel & Spa has accommodation for 160, a bistro-style restaurant, a spa, gym, indoor and outdoor pools. There’s a conference centre, and guests can hire mountain bikes to explore trails in the area. There are 40 two-bedroom suites a short walk from the hotel with their own lounge, kitchen and covered patio with gas braai. The hotel is six kilometres from the centre of Knysna.
An excellent short-game area, with two practice greens, alongside the 13th hole, which can be reached by cart. The teaching pro is Jamie Kietzmann.
Damien Osner & Ann Curling
1/ The road up the steep hill to the Simola Hotel is the venue for three days in May each year for one of the motoring calendar’s most popular events, the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb. There’s always a great parade of classic and vintage cars on view, plus some souped-up machines. The record time is 35.528 seconds, not much longer than the hang time on a drive from the elevated second tee at Simola.
2/ The Sunshine Tour has visited Simola often as a venue for its Vodacom Origins pro-am tournaments.
3/ George Coetzee opened with 61 (32-29; 2 eagles 7 birdies) to win 2019 Vodacom Origins Final. In 2016 Origins, Ockie Strydom closed with 61 to finish second behind Justin Harding. It did not equal course record as some forward tees were used. Ryan Cairns shot 62 in 2012 Origins final round – six birdies in last seven holes – and beat Vaughn Groenewald in a playoff.
4/ Simola should have been the first Jack Nicklaus signature course in Africa. He first visited the site in 1995 when it was being developed by Ola Grinaker, but heavy rains in 1996 washed the topsoil from the shaped holes into the ecologically-sensitive Knysna Lagoon. The course was abandoned and a year later the estate liquidated. Fortunately the project was revived in the new millennium by the Kat Leisure Group, under CEO Avril Kaschula.
5/ Golf Digest named Simola Best New Course in 2005.
Simola offers one of the most challenging bunker experiences the average golfer will face on a South African golf course. They get into your head as early as the second hole, and defend this layout immensely well. The creatively designed Jack Nicklaus bunker complexes are a magnificent feature, and only by managing to avoid them will you get the better of this scenic wonder. There are close to 100 bunkers and they are spacious and deep. Crucially, they come into play on so many holes, both off the tee and around the greens, that you need to have the management skills to shape your shots past them. My favourite complex is the large expanse of sand which intimidatingly fronts the par-5 12th green like the barrier of a fortress. And a similar challenge awaits at the uphill par-5 15th. Your heart is in your mouth as you watch your approach shots attempt to scale them.
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